There has been a recent resurgence of interest in making rugs and other household items by hand. This is probably due to renewed interest in 'do it yourself' crafts, as well as the increased popularity in recycling, re-using and the general desire to lead more sustainable lives. Mending or ‘making do’ is becoming preferable to throwing away and buying another one.
There are many different ways to make rag rugs, but in this tutorial I shall focus on ‘knot rugs’, using traditional methods and made popular by the Amish culture in the USA.
The Amish are a religious order known as Anabaptist, and originated from central Europe. They split from the traditional Christian religion, and many were martyred for their beliefs forcing them to flee their native European land and settle in and around Pennsylvania, USA, around about 1720.
Central to their beliefs is the desire to live simple, wholesome lives. They rarely waste anything, and recycling is an integral part of daily life. When clothes can no longer be worn or passed down, the Amish will cut them into strips to make quilts or rag rugs. Knot rugs, as well as braided rugs, are well established crafts within the Amish communities. You might hear knot rugs referred to as 'toothbrush rugs'. This is because some people fashion toothbrushes to be used as needles to help with the process of making a knot rug.
I had a bit of a free time, last week, to get a move on with preparing for some forthcoming workshops and decided to have a little go at documenting the process, photographically as I went along.
There are several ways you can make rag rugs, you can crochet them with a hook, like I did here, you can have hooked rag rugs and woven rugs using basic frames such as peg looms, braided rugs that are made from plaiting fabrics together, poke strips of cloth through sacking with a pointy stick or make them with your bare hands like we did at this workshop:
The one thing I have discovered about making these rag rugs, is that it is very hard to describe but I will do my best. You don't need to go out and buy any fabric especially for this project, you can make these rugs from textiles find around your own home. Old cotton dress, quilt cover etc work very well for making knot rugs.
First and foremost you will need a pile of clean textiles, woven or knitted and you will need to make the yarn for your rug. For an average size rug you will need about the equivalent of two double sized quilt covers. For this tutorial, I have used woven textiles which are strong and easy to prepare.
Notes about Woven and Knitted fabrics
Woven fabrics are made from strands of fibres, known as the warp, stretched in one direction and interwoven with a second layer of threads. The second layer of weft threads are at a 90 degree angle through the warp threads. This produces a very strong textile with little stretch.
Knitted fabrics use one continuous thread produced by a series of loops pulled through loops for many rows. This produces a very stretchy fabric
I suggest that for this project you use either woven or knitted textile and not to mix both in the same rug as it will cause problems with tension.
Making the yarn
For woven fabric this is very easy. Make strips of fabric by snipping slightly then tearing along the warp or the weft strands of fibres. For knitted fabrics you will need to cut the strips of fabric out as it does not tear in the same way as woven fabrics. Snip a hole at each end of your strips of fabric as shown in the pictures.
If you are making a rug your strips should be at least 2 inches width. If you wanted to make something lighter, like a place mat for example, then 1 inch strips will be enough.
You will work with two stands of yarn at a time so make sure that each strand is no longer than your arm span from hand to hand.
Starting your knot rug
knot rugs are, as their name suggests, made by a series of knots using a technique that is similar to the simple blanket stitch (see picture) used in embroidery except rather than using a needle you use your fingers and instead of putting your needle directly through the fabric itself, you go through the loops created when making your knot rug.
image source - www.ushist.com
Take one strip of yarn and in the middle of the strip, make a basic slip knot as shown in the picture. You should have some control over the size of the loop. The size of this loop should not be too small, just big enough for you to poke your finger through!
Take one tail of the yarn and pull this through your first loop. It's a little bit like crochet but with your fingers instead of an hook. Repeat this process through the loop you have just created until you have about 4 or 5 loops like in the picture. This will give you an oval shaped rug. For a round rug you will need less loops and for a large oval you may want to make more loops.
When you have the desired number of loops, thread the tail, through your last loop - loosely.
You will now be working the blanket stitch, described earlier, making stitches into each of the loops you have just created. In the picture you will see I am using a pointed stick, made from willow, so that you can see where I am making the knots (check our online shop for our handcarved darning needles). Work a blanket type stitch, as shown, into each of the loops you first created.
Continue making knots into each of the loops from the previous rounds in a spiral fashion. Work on a flat surface making extra stitches into the same loops when you get to the curved edges.
Adding extra yarn when you run out and changing colour
When you come to the end of your yarns change using the following technique:
Insert one end our your pre-cut strip of fabric through another
Fold end of fabric through second loop as shown in the picture
Grasp both ends of your fabric strips then pull
You can use the above technique when changes colours too.
Sometimes making all those knots can take their toll on your fingers. If you have aching fingers and hands here is a little tutorial for an extra large darning needle that I fashioned from willow that grows in my garden.
Finishing off your rug
This is very simple. When you are ready to finish, instead of making a stitch in the next space, thread the 'tails' through the next 2 spaces and weave the ends in for at least 2 inches on the underside of your rug. For added security, you could also sew a few stitches with a darning needle and thread.
Your rag rug should look like this:
Flat and neat around the edges with no puckering and even changes of colours.
When things go wrong
If the edges start to curl like this it is an indication that there are not enough knots inserted on the curved edges. Ensure that you work on a flat surface and when you get to the edges put extra knots in to keep the work flat, unless you want to make a basket or a bowl in this case just pull the tail, running beneath your stitches,to pull the edges up into a bowl shape!
If the edges start to go wavy, this is an indication that there are too many stitches being put in. Again, ensure that you work on a flat surface to avoid this and reduce the number of knots on the curved edges by skipping loops if it gets very wavy!